With 2019/20 marking 120 years since Torquay United AFC’s opening campaign, we continue charting the history of the club, following its formation at the Torre Abbey Hotel on Monday 1st May, 1899.
After a season of huge improvement during 1901/02, hopes were high amongst Torquay United’s players and fanbase that 1902/03 would see the side mount a serious bid for the East Devon League title.
Unfortunately further league progress failed to materialise, with the team’s most positive results coming in the form of victories against apparently lesser opponents in mid-season friendlies.
Despite a largely disappointing campaign, founder member Bill Luscombe managed secure a notable coup for the club off the pitch, by enlisting Corinthians and England centre-forward G.O. Smith to assist with the coaching of the side. Smith, widely considered as one of the finest footballers of his generation and also a fine cricketer, reportedly met Luscombe by chance during a game of bowls, and his presence during training would surely have thrilled the United players.
A poor start to the competitive season ultimately left United with too much work to do, with an opening day 4-2 defeat at St Luke’s College serving as a warning of difficulties to come. It was to Torquay’s credit that they bounced back in their next league encounter though, as it is reported that they took to the field for their away game at Devon Regiment with only nine men!
An 8-1 battering at Combined Batteries R.F.A saw them brought back crashing down to earth, and as the campaign entered the winter period, the 1-1 draw at home to Devon Regiment, earned with a goal from Narracott, was the only cause for cheer as pre-season optimism evaporated. It wasn’t until March that United registered their first victory, with a 3-2 success in Dawlish avenging an earlier 1-0 defeat at home.
Friendlies throughout the season included a hat-trick of wins over Cockington Rovers AFC and GWR Students, further illustrating a lack of suitable opponents throughout the local area.
In addition to these fixtures, February 1903 saw Torquay make their debut in the Devon Senior Cup, however their participation in the tournament was short lived, as they bowed out with a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of 1st Royal Lancs Regiment.
More encouraging news soon followed though.
With United’s progression as a club being formally recognised by the Devon FA, the club was chosen to stage the the Devon v Somerset county fixture in March. The match was eagerly anticipated, as it was the first county fixture held in the town, and was seen as a huge boost for Torquay’s future aspirations.
Although Somerset ran out 2-1 winners, the match drew an impressive crowd, proving that the local appetite for Association Football was growing at quite a pace.
The only real disappointment from United’s perspective was that their Recreation Ground base was unable to host the game. With significant flooding leaving their pitch unplayable, the club were desperate to locate another suitable venue to stage what was arguably the biggest match in the town’s history.
Thankfully, their persistence eventually paid off, with the match taking place at the home of Torquay Athletic RFC – Plainmoor!